Swallow tattoos have played a special symbolic part among various world cultures for thousands of years. Nowadays, these tattoos are still immensely popular and are often considered merely for the fashion and beauty aspect of swallow art. However, some of these designs have a deeper personal meaning as well.
Meaning of Swallow Tattoos
Since swallow tattoos have been an incredibly popular choice for body art fans, it naturally lends the question: What swallow tattoo meaning could apply to you?
The historic designs of swallow tattoos goes back hundreds of years and begins with the plight of sailors. When a crew was sailing a long distance on the ocean, typically 5,000 nautical miles or across the equator, the travels were often full of hardship, sickness, starvation, and quite commonly, death. One sign that their travels were nearing an end was the appearance of swallows. Because these birds never traveled far out to sea, their sighting meant that land was near and the long voyage was coming to an end. This fact led many sailors to start adopting swallow tattoo designs as a symbol of hope and a successful finish to a long journey. As a followup to this story, having a tattoo depicting 2 swallows indicated going on a very long journey (10,000 nautical miles or more) and a swallow tattoo with a dagger through its heart symbolized a memorial for a friend lost at sea.
A different anecdote describes swallow tattoos as a symbol of a mutiny that occurred on a ship called ‘The Swallow’. Each of the 7 sailors described in this story had a swallow bird design on their chest to show their support for the mutiny.
As time passed, swallow tattoos have come to symbolize different meanings to different people. Some see the swallow art as a symbol of success or triumph. Others decide to get swallow bird tattoos to signify the return home after a long departure, such as a soldier coming back from war. Another popular meaning is that of freedom, as some people released from prison have chosen this bird tattoo as a sign of their entrance back into society. Yet another interpretation is for an everlasting love and loyalty, related to the fact that swallows mate for life.
Swallow Tattoos — Learn About Early Swallow Art and Culture
When it came to the artistic depictions of swallow tattoos, it is interesting to note that for centuries humans bestowed upon these birds a symbolism of both good luck as well as bad. Therefore, by learning the origins of swallow art history, you can rest assured that the exact symbolic meaning you wish to convey is indeed the one that gets tattooed. Here are some examples of swallow art depictions from various cultures:
- In ancient times, prior to swallow tattoos gaining prominence, the birds themselves were associated with the all-powerful gods, as well as the souls of the dead. For instance, according to Greek and Roman mythology, deities were able to change their form into a swallow. On the other hand, grieving mothers considered the bird to be sacred, as it was thought to carry the soul of their deceased children. Consequently, killing a swallow was deemed unlucky.
- Similarly, an ancient Egyptian artwork depicts a swallow as it enters the underworld, however, Egyptian poetry made a departure to a more positive tone, describing the swallow as bringing the first sign of a new love.
- The expression «one swallow does not make a summer» is derived from a fable by Aesop and is intended as an advice for being cautious and deliberative.
- During the yearly pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, the swallow was considered to be the symbol of faith and steadiness.
- In classical Chinese paintings, the swallow represented happiness and the arrival of spring, and was often depicted as part of the flowering peach branch. Additional portrayals show the bird as: daring, risk-seeking, and a symbol of change for good in the future.
- Despite a mostly favorable characterization of swallows as representing lifelong partnership, in Japan, swallows symbolized unfaithfulness and were described in legends as flying through the house while carrying tidings of displeasure and bad luck from the gods.
All in all, the meaning conveyed by swallow art is that of a region-specific symbolism, which you may wish to further consider for your own swallow tattoos.
Swallow Tattoos — Get to Know the Species
There are literally thousands of bird species, so what makes the swallow a popular bird to ink? Notably, to make sure you get the right tattoo, it is useful to know that the swallow is sometimes mistaken for the bluebird. The eastern Bluebird and the Barn Swallow have similar coloring, with bright accents of orange and blue, converging on both yellow and red. Therefore, you and your tattoo artist should know the right colors and patterns needed to ink an accurate and attractive swallow tattoo. Additionally, the sheer fact that the swallow bird species makes its appearance most prominently during spring can be applied to swallow tattoos as a representation of fertility, hope, and happiness.
These are the main reasons for getting this particular body art, as it seems each new generation and culture finds its own symbolic meaning of the time-honored, simple yet beautiful, swallow tattoos.
Ben A Silver